Discover Nikkei Logo

Nikkei Chronicles #7—Nikkei Roots: Digging into Our Cultural Heritage

June 8, 2018 - Oct. 26, 2018

Stories in the Nikkei Chronicles series have explored many of the ways that Nikkei express their unique culture, whether through food, language, family, or tradition. For this edition, we are digging deeper—all the way down to our roots!

We solicited stories from May to September of 2018 and received 35 stories (22 English; 1 Japanese; 8 Spanish; and 4 Portuguese) from individuals in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Japan, Mexico, Peru, and the United States. For this series, we asked our Nima-kai community to vote for their favorite stories and an editorial committee to pick their favorites. In total, four favorite stories were selected.

Here are the selected favorite stories.

Editorial Committee’s Selections:

  Nima-kai selection:

To learn more about this writing project >>

Check out these other Nikkei Chronicles series >> 

legacies Nikkei Chronicles (series)

Stories from this series

Thumbnail for Pictures and Poetry: Deepening the Connection to my Japanese Roots
Pictures and Poetry: Deepening the Connection to my Japanese Roots

Oct. 26, 2018 • Nancy Matsumoto

Growing up Sansei in my part of California’s San Gabriel Valley meant you didn’t have to work very hard to stay connected to your Nikkei roots—they were all around you. Every family that lived on our South San Gabriel street was Japanese American. We shared Japanese food, holidays, and a mania for gift giving. Our most exotic neighbors were from Okinawa, which as a child I took to be a country separate from Japan. Our local Issei “fish man” would …

Thumbnail for Letters from Miyako - Being Nikkei in Veracruz
Letters from Miyako - Being Nikkei in Veracruz

Oct. 25, 2018 • Jumko Ogata Aguilar

My name is Jumko Ogata and until about a year ago I didn’t know the term Nikkei. Since I was a child, my grandmother had told me stories about her father, an immigrant named Jimpei Ogata (when he was baptized as a Catholic, he added the name Mariano), who came to Mexico to work in the coal mines. But because of his daily experience of inhuman conditions deep inside the earth, he decided to escape in search of a better life. After …

Thumbnail for Magic, the Nikkei Way
Magic, the Nikkei Way

Oct. 24, 2018 • David Hirata

Since the age of ten I’ve been a magician. I spent many hours during my childhood wearing a top hat and cape, waving a wand and brandishing a deck of cards. I’ve long since abandoned those Victorian accoutrements but have continued to work sleight of hand amusements for audiences in hotel banquet halls, living rooms, and theaters. As in other art forms, the world of magic looks to master practitioners of its past. The magic inventions of these past masters …

Thumbnail for If you fall down seven times, stand up eight times
If you fall down seven times, stand up eight times

Oct. 23, 2018 • Noriko Takey Yagi

I remember I was playing after a carefully prepared lunch, when my okasan came up and touched my shoulder: “Do you see that man over there? “He is going to be your husband.” I thought he was handsome. Your ojichan was a wonderful man, he fell several times but always had the strength and courage to get up and reinvent himself. A man of honor, descendant of samurai and one of the few Japanese of his time to obtain a …

Thumbnail for Hometowns

Oct. 22, 2018 • Dean Okamura

I wanted to walk where my grandparents, Hikosaburo Okamura and Tsuru Uyeta, walked. In the early 1900s, they left Japan and came to America. I did not speak Japanese. My grandparents did not speak English. I remembered no stories about their lives in Japan. There is a Japanese song, Furusato by Angela Aki, which says: “Home is always calling out my name.” If I visited their Hometowns, would they call out my name? The unprepared visitor One month before my Japan …

Thumbnail for Meeting the Kumamoto Relatives
Meeting the Kumamoto Relatives

Oct. 19, 2018 • Edna Horiuchi

My first trip to Japan was in the summer of 2016. I was very nervous about meeting my recently-discovered Minami relatives, on my dad's mother's side. What  if  I didn't like them or if they didn't like us? I brought a whole suitcase of gifts or omiyage, carefully selected from Trader Joe's. I was visiting my son, Kenzo, who was doing a semester of study abroad during his junior year at U.C. Berkeley. The last time we had traveled together …

We’re looking for stories like yours! Submit your article, essay, fiction, or poetry to be included in our archive of global Nikkei stories. Learn More
Discover Nikkei brandmark New Site Design See exciting new changes to Discover Nikkei. Find out what’s new and what’s coming soon! Learn More
Authors in This Series

The Japanese Peruvian Association (Asociación Peruano Japonesa, APJ) is a nonprofit organization that brings together and represents Japanese citizens who live in Peru and their descendants, as well as their institutions.

Updated May 2009

Linda Cooper is a communications consultant and freelance writer with more than 30 years of experience as a public relations practitioner, U.S. Senate press aide and journalist. She holds a BA in journalism and political science from Mississippi University for Women. Cooper lives in Tennessee. Her best friend Brenda is a registered nurse at a medical research facility and lives nearby with her family.

Updated September 2019

Javier García Wong-Kit is a journalist, professor, and director of Otros Tiempos magazine. Author of Tentaciones narrativas (Redactum, 2014) and De mis cuarenta (ebook, 2021), he writes for Kaikan, the magazine of the Japanese Peruvian Association.

Updated April 2022

Graduate in Journalism, Director of the Nikkei Plus portal in Lima, (Peru). He did his internship in various mass media such as Perú21 and Expreso . Later he belonged to Peru Shimpo as well as institutions of the Nikkei community. He has collaborated with texts for business publications.

Last updated October 2018

A native of Paraná, with a History degree from the State University at Londrina (UEL) and an Education degree from the Center for Higher Studies of Londrina (CESULON), she’s a retired teacher from the city and state school system. Thanks to a grant from the Japanese government and the Brazilian Ministry of Education and Culture, she attended Hiroshima University from 1987–1989. She belongs to the staff of the Hikari Group of Londrina, whose mission is to keep Japanese culture alive; she works as the photo editor on their website.

Updated September 2016

David Hirata is a magician who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. His magic storytelling show, The Jap Box premiered at the San Diego International Fringe Festival in June 2018, where it won the festival award for “Outstanding World Premiere Show.”   He enjoys hikes with his family, jazz, a good serving of tsukemono, and laughing at his cats.

Updated October 2018

Born in São Paulo, Brazil in 1947. Worked in the field of education until 2009. Since then, she has dedicated herself exclusively to literature, writing essays, short stories and novels, all from a Nikkei point of view.

She grew up listening to Japanese children's stories told by her mother. As a teenager, she read the monthly issue of Shojo Kurabu, a youth magazine for girls imported from Japan. She watched almost all of Ozu's films, developing a great admiration for Japanese culture all her life.

Updated May 2023

Edna Horiuchi is a retired Los Angeles teacher. She volunteers at Florence Nishida’s teaching garden in South LA and is active at Senshin Buddhist Temple. She enjoys reading, tai chi, and going to opera.

Updated June 2023

Jessica Huey is a Director at BDO FMA, a firm that supports nonprofit organizations to strengthen their fiscal management practices. She received her Master’s in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and her B.A. from Brown University. Jessica is a fourth generation Japanese-American (Yonsei) on her mother’s side, and fourth generation Chinese-American on her father’s side.

Updated March 2023

Judith Ichisaka is a fourth-generation Japanese American who has lived in the U.S, Japan, and Canada. Her father’s side immigrated to the United States from Hiroshima, Japan in the late 19th century, and her mother’s side still resides in Nagoya, Japan. She holds an MA in Comparative Literature, and has published articles in a wide variety of areas, from examining Chinook jargon in British Columbia to risks in mobile security. She is now a senior technical writer in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Updated October 2018

Kate Iio was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. Her father was born in Japan, her mother was born in Taiwan, and has an older sister, and two dogs. She graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2019 and is currently teaching English in Japan through the JET Program.

Updated July 2019

Akemi Figueredo Imamura is a third-generation descendant of the Japanese community in Cuba. She is currently the editor of the magazine Ingeniería Industrial. She is a member of Fuji, a chorus made up of Japanese descendants. She has presented works on Japanese culture at diverse international events. She earned a degree in Japanese language at the René Ramos Latourde Foreign Language School at the University of Havana.

Updated October 2018

Fran Ito is a third generation Chinese American from the Island of Oahu. Graduated from McKinley High School. She majored in Business and studied Art in college. She currently makes her home in Los Angeles. She was employed with the Los Angeles County for almost 30 years. After retiring from the County she went to work for a prominent non-profit charitable organization for 23 years as their Office Manager. To make a difference she has volunteered at the Japanese American National Museum, East West Players, Audubon Center at Debs Park, Los Angeles Conservancy, etc.

Fran enjoys edible gardening, hiking, camping, snow skiing, and attending concerts. She loves to travel and has visited many countries. She is now involved in creating short films.

Updated July 2018

Vanessa Kanamoto is a dancer and choreographer that resides in Los Angeles, CA. She received a B.A. in Dance and B.S. in Kinesiology from Cal State Fullerton and her Master of Fine Arts in Dance from the University of California, Irvine.

Updated July 2018

Lila is a recent graduate from the College of Idaho, living and working in Nagasaki Japan. She loves running, hiking, and swimming.

Updated July 2018

Nao Magami majored in advertising and marketing at California State University, San Jose. He worked in the advertising industry in both Japan and in the U.S. for over 30 years and engaged in works related to Nagano Winter Olympics, Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, the U.S. Soccer World Cup, and more. Since 2010, he has volunteered at Japanese American National Museum. He started growing organic Japanese tea in Napa, California in 2017.

Updated September 2018

Marta Marenco was born the youngest of eight children in 1945 to Tatsuzo and Esther Tomihisa. Her father died when she was about to turn nine years old. Her mother was a descendant of the Genoese. They lived in northern Argentina, eventually emigrating to Buenos Aires with her brothers and sisters to find jobs and raise families. Her husband is Argentine, a veterinarian. They have two children living in Mexico and are now enjoying retirement.

Updated September 2015

Nancy Matsumoto is a freelance writer and editor who covers agroecology, food and drink, the arts, and Japanese and Japanese American culture. She has been a contributor to The Wall Street Journal, Time, People, The Toronto Globe and Mail, Civil Eats, NPR’s The Salt,, and the online Densho Encyclopedia of the Japanese American Incarceration, among other publications. Her book, Exploring the World of Japanese Craft Sake: Rice, Water, Earth, was published in May 2022. Another of her books, By the Shore of Lake Michigan, an English-language translation of Japanese tanka poetry written by her grandparents, is forthcoming from UCLA’s Asian American Studies Press.  Twitter/Instagram: @nancymatsumoto

Updated August 2022

Kira Matsuno is an undergrad business major at the University of California Riverside. She is a part of the Nikkei Community Internship (NCI) program with Kizuna as an intern and is involved with the Nikkei Student Union on her college campus. She was born and raised in Glendale California and is fourth generation Japanese American.

Updated July 2018

Grace Morizawa is a Sansei. Her parents met in Heart Mountain Concentration Camp, WY. Born in Los Angeles, she grew up in a Japanese American community in eastern Oregon where West Coast Japanese fled to escape incarceration. She is the Education Coordinator for the National Japanese American Historical Society.

Updated October 2018

Raymond Nakamura lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. When he is not personal assistant to his daughter, he writes Vogon poetry, draws cartoons rejected by the New Yorker and gives tours of Powell Street, the Japanese community where his mother grew up before World War II. He has a poem about being an ice hockey goalie in a children’s sport poetry anthology called And the Crowd Goes Wild.

Updated October 2012 

Nancy Kyoko Oda was born in the Tule Lake Segregation Center. She is a retired elementary school principal, San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center, and Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition President. The Tule Lake Stockade Diary is on the UCLA Suyama Project website.

Updated June 2018

Jumko Ogata Aguilar, a fourth-generation Nikkei from Veracruz, is currently working toward a degree in Latin American Studies at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Her research focus is Japanese immigration to Veracruz, as well as identity and biocultural diversity in Mexico.

Ariel Okamoto is a fourth-generation Japanese American living in Los Angeles. She currently works as a copywriter at UCLA and as a freelance grant writer and development consultant. Her spare time is devoted to family activities, church and community volunteering, cultural learning, and creative writing.

Updated October 2018

Dean Okamura graduated from UCLA in Psychobiology before we had personal computers. Then that all changed resulting in a career reboot Masters from CSUN in Computer Science. I shared Facebook posts about traveling in Japan.

Updated October 2018

A native of Arapongas, Paraná, she has a Business Administration degree from the State University of Londrina (UEL). She is responsible for the administration of the website and fanpage of a wholesale jewelry and costume jewelry company in Londrina, taking photographs and producing videos to be posted on these sites. She participates in coordination of the Ishindaiko Group of Londrina (taiko). She is a staff member at the Hikari Group of Londrina, whose aim is to keep Japanese culture alive. She is responsible for the filming, production, and video editing on their site.

Updated June 2018

Roberto Oshiro Teruya is a 53-year-old Peruvian of the third generation (Sansei); his parents, Seijo Oshiro and Shizue Teruya, both came from Okinawa (Tomigusuku and Yonabaru, respectively). He lives in Lima, the capital of Peru, where he works in the retail clothing business in the city's downtown. He is married to Jenny Nakasone and they have two children Mayumi (23) and Akio (14). He has a deep interest in continuing to preserve the customs inculcated by his grandparents, including cuisine and the butsudan, and hopes his children will do the same.

Updated June 2017

Anne Shimojima is a retired elementary school library media specialist and professional storyteller living in the Chicago area. Visit Anne’s website to see video excerpts of her family story or to download an audio version of the story. On the Resources page you can download bibliographies of resources about the Japanese American incarceration and researching your own family history.

Updated September 2018

Mary has been married for 43 years to John Sunada and they have two sons, James and David. Mary is retired from the Los Angeles Unified School District after 36 years of teaching. She is a member of the Orange County Buddhist Church, the Japanese American National Museum, and the “Go for Broke” National Education Center. Her interests are in fishing, dancing and traveling with family and friends. She has written other stories for Discover Nikkei.

Updated October 2023

Heriete Setsuko Shimabukuro Takeda, 61, a descendant of Okinawans, was born and lives in the city of São Paulo. She is married and is the mother of two children. Now retired, she uses her writing to rescue memories and reach horizons.

Updated October 2018

Passionate and budding narrator of memories, and publicist by profession. I started as a child writing diaries and stories and to date I have not been able to stop; What began as a healthy catharsis of feelings transformed into stories that tell why I am who I am today.

Last updated October 2018

Cody Uyeda is a fourth generation Japanese American living in Southern California. He has a BA and JD from USC and an Ed.M from HGSE, and currently works in educational research and the Asian American nonprofit space.

Updated July 2022

Mori Walts is a trans gender non binary, mixed Nikkei brain injury survivor and sometime Taiko player who makes comics about growing up on the internet and the resulting PTSD from both online and offline experiences. Professionally Mori is a manual therapist. Their art work aims to decolonize media and narrative around Nikkei identity, in promotion of a culturally and ecologically healthier future recovering from capitalist patriarchy.

Updated September 2018

Born in Bebedouro, in São Paulo, Brazil, she has a Nursing degree from the University of São Paulo (USP). She worked as a professor at the State University of Londrina (UEL) until her retirement in 2010. She currently belongs to the staff of UEL’s FM Radio program “Tecer Idades” for this age group. She works as a volunteer in projects related to the field of aging, and she is a member of the board of directors of the "House of Support to the Family of Elderly Bedridden" in Londrina. She is a staff member at the Hikari Group of Londrina, whose aim is to keep Japanese culture alive. She is responsible for both the production and the written content of their site.

Updated June 2018

Danielle Yuki Yang is an LA native currently living in the Bay Area studying English at UC Berkeley. She enjoys reading, writing, painting, hiking, baking, and travelling, and of course participating in Japanese American programs and working with Asian American organizations. In the past she has taken part in the Yonsei Basketball Association, Japanese American Optimist Club, and the Rising Stars Program, and has worked with the Go For Broke National Education Center, as well as the Japanese American National Museum. She hopes to continue her writing recreationally or as a contributor to Discover Nikkei as she pursues a possible career in healthcare.

Updated July 2017

Luci Júdice Yizima, Journalist and Photographer, Teaches Brazilian Gastronomy (homemade food and typical food) to Orientals, Portal Oriente-se, Volunteer Photographer in Oriental charities, Works at Editora União Nikkey Ltda ( Newspapers Nikkey Shimbun and Jornal Nippak and contributor to the Journal da Liberdade (Newspaper from the Liberdade neighborhood in São Paulo - Brazil) Participated in the " Espelhos Documentary ".

Updated October 2018

Discover Nikkei Updates

Nikkei Names 2: Grace, Graça, Graciela, Megumi?
What’s in a name? Share the story of your name with our community. Submissions now open!
Nikkei Uncovered IV: a poetry reading
Join us virtually and enjoy poetry by Matthew Mejia, Christine Kitano, and Mia Ayumi Malholtra.
See exciting new changes to Discover Nikkei. Find out what’s new and what’s coming soon!